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Consent Awareness Week at AUSU

by Chantel Bradley, VPFA

Content warning: references to sexual violence, gender-based violence, and consent

Early summer ’23, I came across an event invite in my email and was happy to see that I had time to join. I went to the meeting, not really knowing what I was about to experience. It turned out to be a presentation on Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) and its impact on students across all educational levels. As a newly elected executive at Athabasca University Students’ Union (AUSU), I was still trying to figure out what initiatives I felt most driven to stand behind. This meeting solidified that calling for me.

The meeting included a discussion about Consent Awareness Week (CAW) by Courage to Act, a federally funded initiative led by the organization Possibility Seeds. The purpose is to provide education for students across Canada about Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) and an understanding of consent as the cornerstone of all healthy relationships. The campaign also brings forward a call to action to prevent SGBV on Canadian campuses and in experiential learning environments.  

A recent report released by the Government of Alberta (GOA) surveyed 12,948 post-secondary students across the province between Jan 30, 2023 – Mar 16, 2023, and showed that close to 50% of student respondents had experienced some form of sexual or gender-based violence since attending post-secondary school. This is astonishing to me. In response to the report findings, the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) issued a press release, calling for the Premier of Alberta and Alberta Ministry of Advanced Education to act now. AUSU joined the call, demanding action in subsequent press release. We are collectively calling for creation of a Working Group with student leaders and community-based organizations to develop preventative measures and provide support for survivors of SGBV.

The impact of the report, released only weeks before national Consent Awareness Week, has inspired many across the student community to speak out and act. Chris Beasley, CAUS Chair, commented: “Consent awareness is an integral element of reducing sexual and gender-based violence, but even though consent itself is a critically important thing, the concept of consent doesn’t need to be confusing. Simply asking somebody if it’s okay to hug them is an example of practicing consent; all interactions and all types of relationships benefit from open communication and respecting people’s boundaries.” 

Beasley confirmed that CAUS will be participating in the CAW national campaign, stating: “This Consent Awareness Week, we look forward to taking the time to educate and engage with student communities on how consent can be meaningfully practiced, and the steps we can all take to uplift consent culture and keep each other safe.” 

This CAW takes place from September 18-22, 2023, and is valuable an opportunity for everyone to try and alleviate the silent suffering of SGBV survivors. By participating, AUSU hopes to strengthen the understanding across our student community of what consent truly means. Your voice matters – no means no! Even online. Even in experiential learning environments.

Now that I have attended a few sessions with both Possibility Seeds and Courage to Act, I recognize that, even though Athabasca University (AU) is not a traditional brick-and-mortar institution, we students are still exposed to sexual or gender-based violence in the cyber world, and soon many of us will also be in an experiential learning environment. A virtual campus still has situations when students are vulnerable and those are the moments sexual or gender-based violence occurs. If you have experienced sexual or gender-based violence, please know that it is not your fault and there are resources available to help you (see below). You are not alone.

I am inspired by the report, and by the national response from the post-secondary community. I am going to use my voice to speak out against SGBV and for consent education. I hope that others hear me and feel inspired to add their voice to mine and affirm with me: “no means NO!”.

If you also feel inspired to help support Consent Awareness Week, please share the campaign, and start having conversations about consent. Together, united, let’s find a way to prevent students from having to experience sexual and gender-based violence. #ConsentAwarenessWeek takes place September 18-22, 2023 (but let’s not stop then!).

Finally, to my fellow AU students, here are some suggested resources and supports. Please remember, we are here to help.

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